This story starts us out with yet another exciting toy brought back from New York. This time it's a bright, shiny drum. Mami makes Yoyo say 'thank you' like a million times to Mamita (Yoyo's grandma).
But Mami doesn't seem like she's very grateful for the present. It's so loud.
Mamita got the drum at a "magic store" called F.A.O. Schwarz. And if Yoyo is very, very good, someday Mamita will take her there.
Yoyo's connection to this drum is, like, spiritual, man. She was born to drum.
Yoyo drums in the yard every day for several weeks. And then—horror of horrors!—she loses a drumstick. And then crazy Aunt Isa sits on the other drumstick and breaks it.
So now Yoyo has a drum and no drumsticks. What's a budding musician to do?
Yoyo keeps carrying the drum around, strapped to her chest.
At the back of Yoyo's huge yard is a coal shed. A haunted coal shed.
Pila the laundry maid is the one who told the kids about the shed being haunted.
Pila's pretty odd looking. She only has one eye. And her skin is dark brown with splotches of pinkish white all up and down her legs. She's half Haitian.
The light-skinned Dominican maids are afraid of Pila because she's Haitian, and must practice voodoo.
When Pila came to the house, she brought all sorts of stories about devils and spirits. And she said they all lived in the coal shed.
Pila only lasted a couple of months, and then she ran away, taking some of the linens and clothes with her.
Mami says that Pila "won't get far with that skin." And sure enough, the police catch her the next day. But Mami says to let her go.
By the time Yoyo is hanging out with drum and no drumsticks, Pila has been gone for several weeks. But thanks to her, the shed is haunted.
Yoyo goes to the coal shed with her drum, looking for trouble.
And in the very last barrel, at the very back of the shed, what does Yoyo find? A litter of kittens. Squee!
The black kittens are really hard to see in the dark, black coal bin. But there's one that has four little white paws and a little white spot on her head. That's my kitten, Yoyo decides.
But is she allowed to touch a baby kitten? Or will the mama cat abandon them? Worse yet, will the mama cat try to scratch Yoyo's eyes out?
Who can she ask for advice on this matter? Someone who knows about kittens? And won't spill the beans?
While Yoyo is contemplating this, a strange man and his dog cross the yard.
The man isn't just handsome—he's "dashing." He's carrying a gun. But Yoyo can tell he's trustworthy.
The man even gets why the stupid sticks Yoyo is using as drumsticks are totally not as good as real drumsticks. See? He gets it!
So Yoyo asks him about the kittens. Here's the man's reasoning:
While a kitten is still suckling, it can't be taken from its mother. That would be a "violation of its natural right to live." In other words, it would die.
But in about a week, the kitten should be ready to leave its mom. A week. Seven days. Got it?
Okay, gotta go, says the dashing man with the gun.
Yoyo is going to name her kitten Schwarz. But seven days? That's sooooo far away from now.
A gunshot scares the momma cat out of the shed. Yoyo goes inside to tell Schwarz about their plan for next Thursday.
Then the man's gun goes off again, and Yoyo realizes that he's hunting! Hunting means he's probably shooting some momma birds right now! What about their "natural right to live"? What about the baby birds that are going to starve because he shot their mommies?
Huh. Yoyo figures she doesn't have to listen to the advice of a hypocrite.
Yoyo strides off across the yard with the kitten... but then she sees the mama cat. If the mama cat catches her, she'll probably claw her eyes out. Or something. Then she'll be one-eyed, like Pila.
She's got a plan. She'll put the kitten inside the drum, and then she'll play a loud drumroll to cover up the sound of the kitten's meowing.
The mama cat must suspect something, because she follows Yoyo towards the house.
Yoyo runs for it! She gets to the laundry room and slams the door behind her!
The mama cat is outside, meowing for her baby. And the baby cat is inside the drum, meowing for her mommy.
The gun goes off again and scares the mother cat away.
Yoyo takes Schwarz out of the drum. The meowing sounds "accusing" now. It makes Yoyo feel like a big jerk.
She wants to drown the kitten in the sink to stop her meowing.
But instead, she throws the kitten out the window. Thud!
The poor kitten wobbles across the yard all morning long. There's no sign of the mama cat.
Yoyo wants to go help Schwarz get back to the coal shed, but she's not allowed outside. Mami has called the police because some crazy guy with a gun is shooting on their property.
When the shooting finally stops, the kitten is gone.
That night, Yoyo wakes up from a bad dream and sees the mother cat sitting at the foot of her bed, like a ghost.
The next day, Yoyo's mom says that's impossible. A cat couldn't have gotten into the house.
But then they find an open window in the laundry room. That new laundry maid is so irresponsible, Mami thinks. (We know it wasn't the maid's fault—it was Yoyo's.)
But that night, and the next night, and the night after that, the cat comes back to stare at Yoyo in the dark. Is this starting to get creepy or what?
Mami says it's a nightmare phase. But the phase lasts for years and years.
Are you ready to speed things up a little? Hold on to your seats, folks:
Then the family moves to the U.S. The cat disappears. Mamita gets old. Yoyo goes away to school. She starts writing. She grows up.
And now, this is who Yoyo is. She's a curious woman who likes stories about ghosts and devils. She still has bad dreams and insomnia.
She still wakes up in the middle of the night and hears the meowing of the mother cat, accusing her of the violation she committed when she was small.
And this violation lies at the very center of her art.